Giulia Ilaqua, an intern for the Liberals

Photo: Rob Foreman

The young and the political

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A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Giulia Illacqua is a member of the Ontario Young Liberals Board, she is in fact a member of the Toronto-Centre Federal Liberal Association. It also stated that while working in her constituency office, she spoke to citizens about the Liberal Party. Though she redirected a number of calls involving the party, she never directly spoke about it with callers.

By Ramisha Farooq

Inside a quiet Toronto home, young Giulia Ilacqua was installed in front of her TV watching her favourite show, The West Wing. President Josiah Bartlet walked across the screen with half a dozen cameras flashing behind him. Ilacqua was enthralled, her eyes glued to the television set.

Bartlet looked around the room with a stern but soft gaze and smiled to his audience. Finally he began to speak. He started off with some jokes, a few inspirational quotes, but then noticed a woman in a pale green dress directly across the room. She was the only one sitting down and Bartlet knew exactly why she was there. She wanted to preach her message of intolerance. He looked away from his staff and directed his attention to her. It only took a few sentences. He eviscerated her.

Barlet said, “While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting at the ignorant tight-ass club, in this house, when the president stands, nobody sits.”

“While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting at the ignorant tight-ass club, in this house, when the president stands, nobody sits.” -Josiah Bartlet

This was one of the best moments in the show’s history — Ilacqua watched it religiously — and it led to her love affair with politics.

Surrounded by strong-headed parents with polarizing political views, she knew from a young age that she wanted to help change the world. She grew up watching them debate and bicker about political parties and policies at the dining room table.

It’s easy to say that youth in Canada are apathetic to the idea of political activity and being involved with political parties, or even voting for that matter. It’s easy to say that statistics don’t lie — only 38.8 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 turned out in the 2011 federal election, according to Elections Canada. It’s not hard to believe that an increasing number of young adults are simply not interested. It’s easy to count youth out in every municipal, provincial and federal election.

But a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University found that of youth aged 18-29, up to 47 per cent participate in politics by boycotting or boycotting products, 42 per cent post or promote political material online and up to 41 per cent sign petitions on or offline. Young people may not be turning out to the polls on election day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to change the world.

David Smith, one of Canada’s most highly regarded experts on Canadian constitutional governance and recipient of a Ryerson honorary doctorate, is a visiting professor at the unviversity. He is also a senior policy fellow at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

He says that while turnout for elections has dropped and that there isn’t as much discussion in his classes as there used to be, “it is a mistake to look at [only] the turnout in the election because youth now have multiple ways to voice their opinion.”

Smith is a grandfather to two young girls. He sees them texting, tweeting and blogging on a daily basis. His belief is that society’s entire communications system has changed and that, in turn, has affected youth engagement.

But Ilacqua hasn’t let that stop her.

She is currently the Toronto-Centre representative for the Ontario Young Liberals (OYL) and also sits on the board of the Toronto-Centre Federal Liberal Association (TCFLA) as an executive. She is also the former president of the Ryerson Young Liberals.

The OYL represents liberal supporters between the ages of 14 to 25 and is an organization made up of smaller university groups like the Ryerson Young Liberals. They’re an affiliate group of the Liberal Party of Canada, so members of the OYL or Ryerson Young Liberals are not necessarily party members. Yet they still play a role in the federal Liberal party.

As a board member of the TCFLA, Ilacqua’s responsibilities include aiding in the approval of the budget, enacting new policies and regulations and giving direction to the president.

Ilacqua’s grandparents also work as civil servants for the City of Toronto. She says that their work and encouragement is what pushed her to want to make a difference.

“Political ideas are not personal but you end up caring so much about them,” she said.

“Political ideas are not personal but you end up caring so much about them.” -Giulia Ilacqua

Back at the dining room table, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Ilacqua to not yell “your opinion is not right,” across at her grandparents.

But she didn’t decide to enroll in a politics program until working for York South-Weston MPP Laura Albanese.

When Ilacqua walked into Albanese’s office, she didn’t know what to expect. She was only there to help out as an intern and she didn’t think it would change her outlook on politics. Though she spent long days in a tight constituency office behind a computer screen phoning citizens and running the reception desk, she was captivated by the work.

When the dial tone started buzzing in her ear, she knew there was a chance that the person on the other line either wouldn’t want to talk or would just hang up. But she stayed on the line, waiting for a friendly voice. Then it happened. “Hello?”

Ilacqua would talk for as long as possible, filling their ears with information. Talking to the community is what made her happy and continues to drive her career forward. To her, this was a way to get involved and bring change.

Michael Tasevski walked up to his parents’ Scarborough home. With the excitement still abuzz from the night before, he rang the pale white doorbell. His mother came rushing to greet him with a grin stretched across her face. Once inside, after some quick hellos, he sat both his parents down in the living room and told them the big news.

The night before, Tasevski and his close friends had walked into Toronto City Hall and filled out a nomination form. He had decided to run for mayor.

His parents’ faces were full of surprise. Both were a little stunned but told him to go for it, only if he was going to be able to put in the effort.

The likelihood of him winning was and is very slim but he said it’s more about the idea of getting his message out and helping youth get involved in politics.

Many years earlier, you would have found a young Tasevski sitting in front of his TV watching Bill Maher, an American political satirist. While Maher made jokes about American foreign policy, Tasevski’s political journey slowly began.

He went on to graduate from Ryerson’s politics and governance program in 2012 and now hopes to attend a professional school and practice environmental law. He hopes to wake up one day, slip on a suit and go fight an oil company.

“I want to be the asshole in the courtroom fighting off those other assholes,” he said.

“I want to be the asshole in the courtroom fighting off those other assholes.” – Michael Tasevski

Like Ilacqua, Tasevski says that questioning the news has taught him that politicians are often less than honest and that he can become the catalyst to get people voting.

For Tasevski, his platform is a way to speak about urban green space, reliable transit and youth empowerment. His campaign has become a base for discussion about issues like city sustainability and the rising cost of living. Tasevski knows he’s not going to win the mayoral race but continues to campaign because he simply wants people to listen — and get involved.

Ben Goslin watched a lot of TV when he was in Grade 1. Scrolling through the channels one day he came across the news. Massive headlines, bright colours and a stern-looking news anchor filled the screen. Goslin was only six years old at the time. That day he watched the Twin Towers fall to the ground in New York City. He was confused about what he’d seen and what reporters were saying. He went to his parents for answers. Even then, his parents liked to keep him informed. They told him that the attacks were no accident.

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Ben Goslin, a volunteer for the NDP. Photo: Farnia Fekri

Goslin told his classmates about what he had seen and what his parents had said about the attack. The next day Goslin’s mom, Michelle, got a stern call from the school principal. Their son had been “scaring the other children” and other parents were complaining. For the other children the attack was nothing but an accident. Despite his age, Goslin said it was at this moment he began to think about politics.

But his decision to ultimately come to Ryerson to study politics and to become a member of the NDP was finally made for him when he met former NDP leader Jack Layton at a protest in front of Queen’s Park just before the 2011 federal election.

Goslin recalled a statuesque figure wearing black, his white hair stood out in a sea of orange. Layton made his way around smiling at everyone who came and then finally stopped in front of Goslin. All he could say was hi — Layton shook his hand and continued to make his rounds.

“It was so cool,” Goslin said. “He was actually there to help people.”

As magical as it was meeting Jack Layton, Goslin’s first volunteer shift was far from glamorous. His first day on the job, he walked up to a small, very plain, boxed building in Oshawa, Ont. — an area known for being a Conservative stronghold. All the more reason Goslin wanted to get involved. As he walked up, he saw a bright orange sign plaque right above the front door. When he walked in, he was greeted by a receptionist and directed toward the volunteer coordinator and his first job. For the first few weeks he was asked to canvass over the phone.

Once he was comfortable talking to community members, Goslin was asked to go door-to-door and canvass with former Oshawa NDP candidate Mike Shields. As he was walking up to the first house with Shields right in front him, he felt good. He didn’t do a lot of the talking but he felt like he was doing something right, something that would bring change to Canadian politics.

That sentiment changed when people began to open their doors. “People will be like, ‘No, I don’t want to talk to you,’” Goslin said.

Despite this, Shields and Goslin kept knocking until someone would talk to them. When they did, he told them all about what the NDP was doing and had done for the country. A few of them even decided to donate.

For Goslin, the satisfaction was worth waiting for.

“I really just want to push progress in our country.”

“I really just want to push progress in our country.” – Ben Goslin

Unlike many of his friends and family, who go straight home after work with few other cares in the world, Goslin spends most of his days cooped up within the walls of a narrow NDP constituency office, on the streets canvassing for donations or in class studying to become a political strategist.

He’s only 19 years old but Goslin has little time for rest. His days are long but he doesn’t regret a moment spent talking to people and spreading his party’s message.

Despite dismal youth turnout in all major elections in the recent past, young people are far from being uninvolved in the political process.

It’s gruelling work, difficult — daily rejection doesn’t fair well with anyone — but Goslin is far from unhappy. What he does makes a difference to him and to those he works for. There are 460,000 18 to 25-year-old Canadians working for political parties, according to Samara, a Canadian research group, and Statistics Canada. And Goslin and his peers’ expressions of their political opinions online are vital to the future of Canada.

So while, his actions may not change the world today, they are a huge step in the right direction.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Eyeopener made several attempts to contact members of the Ryerson Young Conservatives for an interview, but the organization declined

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